African Grove Theatre

Black History Month Honoree 2
Posted on 02/02/2023
Image of African Grove Theatre PlaybillIn honor of Black History Month, Firestone Theatre throws a spotlight on the people and events making contributions to Black theatre throughout history.

The African Grove Theatre opened in New York City in 1821. It was founded and operated by William Alexander Brown, a free black man from the West Indies. It opened six years before the final abolition of slavery in New York state (gradual abolition brought it to an end in 1827, but young people born to slave mothers had to serve apprenticeships to age 21). The African Grove Theatre was attended by "all types of black New Yorkers -- free and slave, middle-class and working-class" -- along with others. It was the first place where Ira Aldridge, who would later become an esteemed and renowned Shakespearian actor, first saw a production of a Shakespeare play.

For some years, the African Company — the company of the African Grove — played classics and many other plays with an entirely black cast and crew to mostly black audiences. It was the third of at least four attempts to create a black theater in the city and the most commercially successful. At one point, the theatre had to build an extra level of seats to house white audiences that wanted to see the performances. After a few years, city officials shut down the African Grove because of complaints about conduct: conduct that was normal among working-class, white, New York theatre audiences of the time was considered unacceptably boisterous when displayed by blacks. It is thought that the real reason was that this black theatre was becoming as successful as many other venues.

Image of African Grove Theatre Playbill
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